Petra: Refuge City

I’ve been meaning to finish posting about my trip to Jordan and Egypt, but trips to Chicago and Costa Rica distracted me. So, I’ll try to rectify that today.

Let me take you on a tour to one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been in my  life. But first you have to imagine driving a few hours south of Jordan’s capital, passing Bedouin tents in the desert.

You drop into a sort of valley, where a small town is perched on the surrounding hills. Your driver drops you off at what appears to be the entrance to a national park.

You skirt the aggressive-looking sales people keeping watch in front of tourist-kitsch filled booths and make your way to the ticket windows. See the posted prices are around $20 JD (Jordanian Dinars) per person. Notice the optional horse ride into Petra, but decide to walk to save money.

Get charged for the horse ride anyway. Watch your husband argue with the ticket seller, who tells him purchase of the horse ride is required. Give up, because there’s no other option. Walk to the gate, and then down a wide, rocky-strewn road (this takes forever) into what looks like a canyon.

The canyon is cool, shaded from the sun and paved with rough cobblestones. The path gently slopes downward and you wonder what you are descending to.

Avoid slower-walking tourists, and think grumbly thoughts about the ones who don’t let you pass. Speed walk around the annoying people smoking in the confined space. Wonder why smokers would choose to hike, since they obviously don’t care about health.

The colors on the rock faces are amazing; my poor little camera couldn’t do it justice. Crane your neck looking up at all the wrinkles, shades and textures.

There’s a line in a song I like that goes, “Now bursting forth, in glorious light…” and that’s what it feels like as you hit the end of the canyon. Light gleams through the opening. There’s a large crowd gathered, and you wonder why.

Then you see it. The temple.

My first thought was, “That is real! I thought they made it up for the movie!”

But it’s very real, guarded by the Jordanian Royal guard.

And oh, a camel. That dude doesn’t look too happy. I’d give him a wide berth, if I were you.

Attempt to get a picture of yourself with the temple. Fail miserably, after about 42 takes. It’s just too big and our arms too short.

Explore.

Marvel.

Realize there is lots more to see than just the cherry on the top of the sundae. People are heading off to the right. With one last glace over your shoulder…

…head out to the rest of the amazing, ancient fortified city. Decedents of the inhabitants of the ancient city are the only ones allowed to operate inside. Many of them lived in the caves dotting the hills until just a few years ago, when former King Hussein moved them out to open the place for tourism. They still come back every day to work in their heritage, offering horse, camel and donkey rides, selling jewelry and paintings and even selling rock souvenirs.

Amazingly, these Bedouin people spoke more English than most of the Jordanian Arabs I met in the rest of Jordan. I had actual conversations with several of them. They were very friendly, and not as pushy as I expected.

One girl gave me a piece of colored rock. The donkey guy offered a ride to the top of the hill, and when I turned him down, he said, “Ok, but just remember, I didn’t push you.” Another little guy made me tea in his tent over an open fire. Let’s face it: I was charmed.

Ok, sorry. Now ack to your tour.

There’s so much to explore, and not enough time to see it all. Understand why some people come and take 4 or 5 days to see Petra. Decide to hike up a stony path to some “Sacrificial Circle.” Reach the top and feel like you are literally on top of the world, the sky blue, the sun shining, the spring air crisp, the view stretching for miles through the desert.

On the descent, down the other side of the rocky hill, discover a hidden temple.

Swerve around the Bedouin jewelry on every wide spot in the path. Unless you really want to stop and shop. But that’s not why I’m here.

See those colors in the top of the archway? Now imagine how much more incredible it looks in real life.

Ok, the tour is ending. Keep on hiking, if you like, but I’ve got to go.

We took five hours to see the place and arrived exhausted back at the top. And we barely scratched the surface. I would so go back.

Just look at it!

You should go.

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64 thoughts on “Petra: Refuge City

    • My wife and I visited Petra in 2005. It was something we had both wanted to do since childhood. The pictures are beautiful, but it is remarkable how much better the place looks when you’re there. If you ever get a chance to visit this ancient city, don’t pass it up.

  1. Petra

    by John William Burgon (1845)

    It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
    By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
    But from the rock as if by magic grown,
    Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
    Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
    Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
    Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
    That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
    But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
    That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
    The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
    Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago.
    Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
    A rose-red city half as old as time.

    • Oh, how sweet the words of Burgon,

      Of a city used of refuge, and said again to be;

      Walls glistening as Cabernet Franc,

      Words of antiquity, yet fresh as Chianti;

      Hearing quenches the thirst of the mind,

      Saying more than ones eyes can see;

      Petra to my eyes, sweet Valpolicello,

      And to my ears Burgon, as to my lips;

      the best of Burgundy.

  2. I’ve been here, and it really is one of the most underrated places on earth. I thought it was much cooler than the pyramids in Egypt. It should be one of the wonders of the world. It’s too bad Jordan can’t reap all the benefits of it (Jordan isn’t exactly the biggest tourist country), but it’s also nice to go there and not feel as if you are at the Taj Mahal or the pyramids, etc. It’s slightly undiscovered and quiet, but absolutely amazing and a joy to marvel at. You feel like you’ve found a secret place that not that many people know about. Although I think the secret is finally out about Petra.

    • I think the secret is out, too, because there were TONS of people there the day we were. It was a Friday, too, so many of them were locals. That was the one downer: all the crowds.

  3. I was just there a couple weeks ago! I think it is probably the most amazing place I’ve ever been though Macchu Picchu was great too (and I was there on a rainy day).

    • Though I’ve been to Peru three times, I still haven’t made it to Macchu Picchu. There are some Incan ruins called Inga Pierca in Ecuador that are pretty similar, though, that I’ve been to. Put those on your list, too!

  4. What amazing photos! I’m planning on heading to Morocco this December, and Egypt will hopefully come soon after, I will add this to my “places to go” list!

    • Definitely add it! I’m planning a couple of Egypt posts, too, so please check back for those photos. I have to say, though, I’d pick Petra over the pyramids now that I’ve seen both, if I had to choose.

  5. just the same, i also thought this place was just a set! this place is worth visiting. i would have to add this to my list as well together with Egypt. thanks for sharing…

  6. Great post! The pictures really brought me back to my travels through Jordan. I have to agree, I too would pick Petra over the pyramids (although both are a must see). In fact, I think Jordan may be one of my favorite countries in the world.

  7. fantastic post! I’ll be going to Jordan within a few weeks to take part in an archaeological excavation. Several members of the project are planning on visiting Petra and I can’t wait to go with them. These pictures are helping to stoke my excitement!

    • Plan to AT LEAST spend a whole day there. One thing I wish we would have done is to pack a lunch. Taking a break on top of that incredible hill to eat and really enjoy the view would have been fantastic. I totally could have spent longer, but we got too hungry.

  8. I like the one where you emerge and finally see the temple. I would love to get over to that corner of the globe someday but I guess for now I just have to be content with Latin America. Sweet blog :)

  9. I have seen Petra on television but it must be so AMAZING to experience it first-hand. beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing!

  10. Impressed by such beautiful photographs taken so clearly, your trip to Cairo Jordan Egypt, must have been wonderful, thanks for sharing your personal experiences

  11. Quite the flow of tourism these days, compared to 1977 when I was first there. Aggressive trinket hustlers, the Jordanian National Guard, wow! Glad to see some people are making money.

    • I think it would have been amazing to be there in 1977, when Petra was all but undiscovered. But like you said, it’s great that the country is finally benefiting from it’s heritage.

  12. I cannot touch on exactly why, but tears formed at finishing this post, and my eyes maintained WIDE at all your vivid pictures and guided inclusion. Wonderful post. this has made me follow your blog in continuation. :)

  13. You are so luck to have visited Petra! I have always wanted to go.
    My arabic language teacher is from Jordan and tells us that is so beautiful and truly magical.
    willing to live in a tent and visit perta everyday anytime.
    just trying to imagine the sun rising in perta is breathtaking.
    Thanks for Sharing!

  14. Thank you for sharing your amazing photos and journey. LOL! I could almost see and hear Indiana Jones and Sean Connery galloping through the canyon! Congratulations on a fabulous blog! Happy trails and safe journeys.

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  16. I feel like I was walking along side you throught the streets of Petra. How lovely you captured your trip in words and photos. Most excellent! (I am living out my dream to travel through your photos)

  17. This is a great post – superb travelogue and you capture Petra so beautifully. I particularly like the column the rises upward – it reminds me of resting my chin on someone’s stomach and looking up.

    I have always wanted to visit this place and hope one day I will.

    With best wishes,

    Arjuna

  18. I live in Israel. So close to Petra. I have been meaning to get there forever. I stumbled across your blog and loved the photographs. Wonderful. Thank You for sharing. I hope I get there soon.

  19. Great post, and has made me really look forward to a trip to Petra that I should be going on in June. I sadly only have time to spend one day there – this obviously isn’t enough time! I guess I’ll just have to go back another time! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers

  21. People who travel are more open-minded and accept cultural and national differences in people. In my opinion, they have more to offer intellectually than those of us who have done nothing more than seeing our backyards through our bedroom windows.

    Thank you very much.

    • In a way what you are saying is true; I think that exposure to other cultures opens your mind to the possibility that differences are good. That said, if you don’t have an opportunity to travel, I think you can still expose yourself to other cultures through literature, films and probably other ways. Choose foreign authors; watch foreign films. All while seeing your own backyard through your window.

  22. walking through the canyon looked breath taking! and the temple carved out of the canyon was amazing! I never realized that Jordan has this beautiful site. thanks for blogging about it!

  23. Great pictures. It makes Petra look 100 times more beautiful than it is.
    I’m Jordanian and I live in Amman.
    Gotta say that Petra is not that interesting… it’s looks beautiful in pictures but it sucks in reality. O.o

    • Oh man, I can’t believe you are saying that. What is it that you dislike? I could do without all the tourists and hagglers, but the land and the rock formations are incredible. More interesting to me than the Grand Canyon, for example, since the GC is so big you can’t really interact with it.

  24. Thanks for an interesting blog and photos. Many years since I visited Petra and I would dearly like to go again, but its good to see its just as magnificent as I remember.

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  26. Excellent post – just wandered in here from the featured posts on wordpress.com. Would love to go to Petra one day, but your comment about the crowds highlights a problem; the more people go, the more they will have to stop people going to protect it…

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